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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism

Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

A Chechen Auto de fe

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226441Ramzan Kadyrov has been called a lot of things.  Few of them positive.  But an interrogator of would-be terrorists?  It has been alleged that Kadyrov has been present at the interrogation of Chechen rebels and terrorists, even going so far as amusing himself “by personally giving prisoners electric shocks or firing pistols at their feet.”  But these allegations have never gone beyond anecdotal evidence.  Kadyrov himself has certainly never used his participation in interrogations as PR.  Until now.

It’s been a summer of death in the North Caucasus, and Kadyrov might be feeling the need to personally step in and show he’s still large and in charge.  According to the NY Times,

Between June and August, 436 people have been killed, compared with 150 during the same months in 2008. And the number of attacks jumped to 452 from 265, according to statistics compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private research group based in Washington.

Then there is the return of suicide bombings to the Chechen capital just in time for the fifth anniversary of the school massacre in Beslan.

But a stroke of luck came a few days ago when four suicide bombers, all under 18, were detained by Chechen police.  They had three bomb belts, three AKs, a Makarov pistol and ammunition in their possession.   And never to miss an opportunity, Kadyrov decided to conduct the interrogation himself for all the world to see.

Here’s Kommersant‘s transcript of the exchange:

“Why did you want to blow yourself up?” Mr. Kadyrov asked a detainee, holding the removed suicide bomber’s belt in his hands.

“They told me that I would go to heaven” the bomber answered.

“Who told you?”

“Arabs named Mokhdan and Yasir.”

“And why didn’t you suggest that they do it themselves?  So they would go to heaven?”

“But I didn’t meet with them.  I listened to them only a video,” the detainee attempted to explain.

Next, by Kadyrov’s order the father of one of the unsuccessful suicide bombers was allowed into the interrogation.

“I arranged for you to go to an petroleum institute and paid for your studies.  And you disgrace me in front of the entire world [by] wanting to kill innocent people. What you yob, you listen to some Arabs but not your own father!?  Am I not a Muslim to you?  That I  don’t pray or fast,” the old Chechen yelled at his son.

Then the old man turned to Kadyrov and said, “Ramzan, there is no forgiveness for my son.  But I am guilty.  I failed to watch over him.”  The four youths then spilled their guts about their plot. Two were to blow themselves up at the police station in Leninskii district.  The others were to blow up a mosque during Friday prayers in Shalinskii.  They also said that the coordinator of the attack was a certain Gerat.

What happened to the four youths after that is unknown.

According to the Caucasian Knot, Kadyrov’s public show might not curry him the favor he desires.  One resident of Grozny told the Knot, “All that abuse and dirt that the President poured on the militants, his tone and insults addressed to the detainees and their relatives do no credit to him,” she said.

Perhaps.  But it still makes for good theater.

Image: KomPrav